The onset of the Internet has allowed for the global distribution of the how-to video. With one click, we can learn how to make paella, contour and highlight like a makeup pro, or even use chopsticks. That popularity translated to more than 100 million hours of how-to videos being watched in North America from January 2015 to May 2015, according to a 2015 Google report. But amid that is a growing market for how-to tutorials on photography, which runs the gamut of basic camera knowledge to editing photos with Adobe Photoshop. (YouTube renders 7 240 000 search results for photography tutorial videos). While this makes it possible for anyone to become a photographer by simply watching some YouTube videos, formal photography education is still in high demand.
“We got application pressures of five to one: five people want any one of our seats,” says Reg Westly, program chair of NAIT’s Photographic Technology and Graphic Communications programs. The Photographic Technology program only takes in 26 students each September.
Within NAIT’s two-year photography program, students learn to handle both the technical and esthetic skills required to create a high-quality image in portrait, wedding, commercial, photojournalism and fine art fields. Students also learn about the business side of the industry—something that is often absent in online tutorials, Westly says, noting the business component is crucial for a photographer who is serious in pursing photography at a professional level. NAIT offers five courses that teach the skills required to run a freelance photography business: sales, contracts, copyright and taxes.
“Part of the business aspect is the marketing and the promotion component itself,” Westly says. “It’s basically educating the customer and explaining to them where the advantages are of hiring somebody that has been professionally trained.
“We get our students to educate the client as to [what] the difference is,” he continues. “Uncle Joe might have the same camera as one of the students, but it’s the training and skills the student has learned that makes the difference.”
Though Westly doesn’t see anything wrong with online photography training, he acknowledges that that route can be time-consuming compared to NAIT’s two-year program, which is meant to fast-track the student into a career.
“The thing is that when a student is coming into our program, one of the questions I purposely ask them is: ‘Do you need to be professionally trained to be a photographer?’ The answer to that is no,” he explains. “But the difference is that the 10 years or so someone is studying [photography] on YouTube or what they can find on the Internet, we can give what would be 10 years of [informal] training in two [years]. We can fast-track them into their career and get them going.”
The NAIT photography program is built with consideration of the industry, keeping in mind the fluctuating climate of economic downturn. (He says that the only niche to be hit from the downturn is commercial photography—shooting the oil rigs—but social media has put a demand on portraiture and headshots.) It does this by doing a self-review every year and consulting an advisory council—which is a collection of photographers from all across Alberta—on the changes that must be made in order for its students to get the most up-to-date education. In addition, NAIT does a large-scale evaluation every five years where a complete redesign and reworking of the courses are made, Westly explains.
“We take [our students] from this is the basics of how to use your camera all the way through to the ability to see light and create light in whatever format they need, edit the images and completely process the image to what they need—and actually printing it as well,” he says. “So all our students, by the time they are finished with us, they have learned how to create prints, how to map the prints and how to mount the prints and get them ready to be framed. We don’t leave them as just snap and upload. It’s the whole process from the start [of taking a photo] to something they can hold in their hands.”